Pay it forward

When breath becomes air


I have known Garima for many years. She had even done a few photography assignments for NalandaWay. But I had never met her until recently last December in Goa.

Garima is a furniture designer from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and a parent of a one year old. Her company “Other Wise” makes simple products for children and parents. Products by ‘Other-Wise” use natural materials and local skills and is guided by her own experience, choices and beliefs in parenting, which included natural birth, cloth-diapering, co-sleeping and baby wearing.

As a parent she found it difficult to find products that agreed with her philosophy, hence she decided to plunge in to make products that will offer children a natural and a neutral environment to grow in.

Her product “Baby Fabric Swing,” has become a big hit. Do check it out here.

I gifted Garima, one of my life-altering books, “When breath becomes air,” by Dr. Paul Kananithi. It is an utterly spectacular and devastating book both at the same time. The book begins,

“I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer, widely disseminated. I was a neurosurgical resident entering my final year of training. Over the last six years, I’d examined scores of such scans, on the off chance that some procedure might benefit the patient. But this scan was different: it was my own.”

It is about a 37 year old super achiever, two BAs and an MA in literature in Stanford, then a Master of Philosophy in Cambridge and a graduate cum laude from Yale School of Medicine. And just when he thought his life is going to take off, he is diagnosed of terminal lung cancer with less than few months or years to live.

Just when he was learning to live, that which he had postponed trying to make a career in nuerosurgery, he was faced with learning how to die.

I can guarantee that this is not a book you can finish reading and forget about it. There is so much that will haunt you for days, of life, of death, of birth and of love. His message is simple,

‘When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

Hope you will like the book Garima. 🙂

#PayItForward #GiftABook 25/100

Pay it forward

Indira Gandhi and JRD Tata


A friend and I went to meet Varsha at the newly opened “Mamagato” restaurant on Khader Nazaz Khan road in Chennai. The decor looked bright and colourful compared to the sober one on Khan market in Delhi. I wonder if their choice of the location, both having the same surname was deliberate.

It was her last week in Chennai before she travelled to New Zealand for further studies. Varsha was already at the table. Sooner we approached the table, she laughed out loud; perhaps about something she was reading on the phone.

“So a friend set me up with this guy, a chartered accountant in Dubai,” Varsha looked at us.

“Men, I tell you are such idiots.”

We were curious.

“So I was chatting with him, random conversation, one thing led to another and we got talking politics.”

Alright, we were wondering were it was going.

“Yada Yada, and this dude suddenly pops a question.”

“Do you know Indira Gandhi is actually the daughter of JRD Tata?”

“WTF, can you believe it? How can he be so dumb? Everything is off. I can never marry a guy who is this stupid,” she said, still controlling her evil laughter.

Poor men, I thought. What all we have to do to get a lady. Get educated, get a job, dare to start a conversation and top it all know exactly who is whose father. Guys, better brush up your general knowledge before you can even think of women.

Yes that’s my adorable friend and history Nazi. I gifted the English translation of Sundara Ramasamy’s celebrated Tamil novel, “Children, women, men.”

After our meeting Varsha left for New Zealand to do further studies.

Go rock the Kiwis Varsha.

And if you are looking for fusion oriental, Mamagato it is.

#PayItForward #GiftABook 24/100

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Palace of illusions


“Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a special book for me. I read this book many years ago after reading “Indira” by Katherine Frank. Surprisingly, I found a lot of similarities in their personality traits.

I was totally bowled over by the author’s writing and the conviction with which she has written the most debated, misunderstood and controversial character in Mahabharata, and again in first person. Draupadi, the queen born from fire, married to five fiercest warriors, a queen who ruled a magical palace, one who secretly loved a man from the enemy’s camp, one who never learnt her lessons from the only man she ever trusted, Krishna, a woman obsessed about vengeance and hated by the world for having caused the death of millions in the great battle of the Mahabharata.

The novel delves into the secrets of her life, the man she loved above her five husbands, her imperfections, her likes, her feelings around dishonest people and her silent suffering against the constant insults heaped on her by the world.

Let me quote one of my favourite extract from the book,

“For men, the softer emotions are always intertwined with power and pride. That was why Karna waited for me to plead with him though he could have stopped my suffering with a single word. That was why he turned on me when I refused to ask for his pity. That was why he incited Dussasan to an action that was against the code of honor by which he lived his life. He knew he would regret it—in his fierce smile there had already been a glint of pain.

But was a woman’s heart any purer, in the end?

That was the final truth I learned. All this time I’d thought myself better than my father, better than all those men who inflicted harm on a thousand innocents in order to punish the one man who had wronged them. I’d thought myself above the cravings that drove him. But I, too, was tainted with them, vengeance encoded into my blood. When the moment came I couldn’t resist it, no more than a dog can resist chewing a bone that, splintering, makes his mouth bleed.

Already I was storing these lessons inside me. I would use them over the long years of exile to gain what I wanted, no matter what its price.

But Krishna, the slippery one, the one who had offered me a different solace, Krishna with his disappointed eyes—what was the lesson he’d tried to teach?”

I gifted this book to my friend Zeba Rizvi at my favourite bookshop Full Circle at Khan Market, in Delhi.

‪#‎PayItForward‬ #‎GiftABook‬ 23/100

Pay it forward

Like Smoke


“I have helped over a million young people”, Paro Anand announced on the stage. It was at the Mussoorie Mountain Writers Festival in October last year. I felt she was pompous about her accomplishments. I picked up her book, “Like Smoke’, a collection of 20 short stories about the lives of teenagers. Much to my surprise, all the stories reflected the author’s deep sense of empathy and understanding of the challenges faced by young people.

In the last two weeks alone, five college students have committed suicide and many have gone unreported because the press did not find them sensational enough. As much as we could debate based on which side of the political spectrum one belongs to, in every case it is always a kid who wanted to be heard, to be loved, to be reassured that he or she can overcome the odds.

This book is also for parents who would like to get into the heads of youngsters. The stories in this book will give you clues about how to enagage with your children and students. A person who wants to take his life will always give signals, about his unhappiness, fears, anxieties. Do not push them away, listen to them, don’t impose your morality and make them feel more insecure. Be gentle with young people. Their strong and often indifferent exterior masks a soft gooy molten chocolate waiting to be accepted and understood.

Be kind, well that’s the only choice we have, for precious lives are at stake.

I gifted this book to activist and colleague Veronica Angel. Hope you would continue to smile and laugh just the way you do, for many long years.

‪#‎PayItForward‬ ‪#‎GiftABook‬ 20/100

Pay it forward

Gulzar’s short stories


“Raavi Paar and other stories” is a collection of short stories by Gulzar that evoke emotions of love, heartbreak, loneliness, loss, anxiety, fear, and longing. What also comes out strongly are that these stories truly reflect the perceptions of a man who has lived a life with empathy and compassion for his people.

My favourite is the popular short story, “Raavi Paar.” This story gripped me from the very start. As it progressed it made me anxious, angry, lonely, happy, helpless. There are very few stories that make you stop reading for many days transporting to a place of deep reflection about life and its meanings. My next favourite is the story of Dilip Kumar, the movie star who breaks the heart of a love struck young girl.

I gifted this book to Vidhya Thirunavukkarasu. I really hope you will enjoy these stories as much as I did.

#PayItForward #GiftABook 14/100